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Teen survivor's grief over loss of mum, brother

VEHICLE crashes resulting in death and injury are tragic in any situation but they can be particularly upsetting when there are children involved.

These young people's lives have barely began to crystallise when they are cruelly, brutally taken - through no fault of their own.

It can also be unfathomable when a child survives but other family members don't. A life sentence of another kind.

Where multiple passengers are involved, the randomness seems incredibly cruel and Cowper was as merciless as any of them.

Natisha Pitt was 14 and on the Sunliner coach heading to Brisbane in the early hours of October 20. The middle child of three was travelling with her mother and brother, to of all things, a family funeral.

She was sitting on the left of the bus, next to an older lady because her brother didn't want to. He sat with his mother across the aisle. They were both killed and Natisha was relatively uninjured.

Natisha's older brother Shaun was a keen tennis player.
Natisha's older brother Shaun was a keen tennis player. Contributed

Now living in North Queensland, married, a mother (and grandmother) in her 40s, Natisha Pitt says she doesn't really have flashbacks about the impact itself "because I got knocked out".

"I don't think they would have found me (straight away) as I was in a stand-up position with my left leg locked down by chairs. I remember raindrops falling on my forehead, like it was actually spitting, and I woke up because of that and was hysterical. I was like is this a dream? If that hadn't happened and I hadn't moved, I don't think they would've known I was still alive."

The first thing Natisha saw when she came to was her brother who had fatal injuries (too graphic to publish) and did not see her mother at all.

Despite the gruesome and traumatic environment the 14-year-old found herself in, she remembered holding out hope and telling the first responders to look after her brother.

"When the SES guy came up the ladder on the side of the bus he saw me move. I didn't worry about me. All I could see was my brother so I was telling them to be careful with him. I didn't realise he had already passed."

Natisha was moved some distance from the accident site to shield her from distressing sounds of that morning - laid on a stretcher on the closed Pacific Highway.

"That's how my family knew. My nan, she was watching the news and that's when she saw me. When the cameras went past the stretchers, they spotted my face. I was all by myself."

Natisha's mum Elizabeth was a warm, kind woman who stood up for others.
Natisha's mum Elizabeth was a warm, kind woman who stood up for others. Contributed

Natisha remembers feeling alone a lot that day. She was transported straight to Maclean Hospital where she was put in a ward on her own. She still didn't know her mother and brother were dead.

"I had literally no one, no one in the room at all. I was only 14 and all I can remember is that I was in there all by myself. I remember I got up to go and have a shower but I kept smelling diesel. I couldn't get the smell off me."

Natisha's relatives came straight from Brisbane to Maclean Hospital to pick her up.

"They took me back to West End (Brisbane) at to my nan's. They didn't tell me until I got there, where my mum and my brother were. That they were deceased."

The brutality of the accident that killed her mother and brother is something she came to terms with many years later when her uncle finally gave her the coroner's report.

"I was about 30. I didn't even know he had it. He still didn't want to give it to me at the time because he didn't think I was ready to see it. He was my mum's brother and he was the one (along with her aunt) who had to go down (to Sydney) and identify my mum and my brother."

Cowper bus crash survivor Natisha Pitt (3rd from left) with her children William, 12, Alexander,13 and Elizabeth, 15 at the site of the Cowper Bus Crash memorial.
Cowper bus crash survivor Natisha Pitt (3rd from left) with her children William, 12, Alexander,13 and Elizabeth, 15 at the site of the Cowper Bus Crash memorial. Adam Hourigan


Natisha, who had been travelling to Queensland to see her grandfather laid to rest, now had to three funerals to attend. At 14.

Growing up in the shadow of such family trauma wasn't easy for Natisha, she still had a younger sister who was 12 at the time - who didn't go on the bus journey.

"I had to grow up pretty fast ... and just live life as best I could because I think my mum and my brother would have said you need to go forward, but never forget us, which I would never do."

She remembered her brother as being "mad and crazy" about tennis. "He loved Ivan Lendl, he loved Boris Becker, he loved Andre Agassi."

"He was a perfectionist. School didn't interest him, he just wanted to play tennis. He was really good at it. If he was still alive I reckon he would have been a champion."

"My mum was the loveliest. She used to babysit other people's children. She had the kindest hands. Treated everyone equally. She was only a petite, little woman. Five foot three or four. A skinny, lanky little woman. She always used to wear her handbag like she had a million dollars in it."

Natisha Pitt with her three children Elizabeth, Alex and William.
Natisha Pitt with her three children Elizabeth, Alex and William. Contributed

 

"But you didn't muck with her. She was a fighter. Like if she knew something was bad, like some big person was picking on a little person, she'd go straight over (and confront them). She didn't take any crap at all."

Having her adolescence so greatly shattered, Natisha holds precious memories like these all the more closely.

"I didn't get to know my family as much as I should have. (I often wonder) what they would have been if they were here."

She said she didn't really know how she coped at the time and continued to.

Suffering anxiety in her 30s and still triggered when travelling near heavy vehicles "particularly in the rain" she is grateful for every day she wakes up to.

"I've had a pretty rough life but I'm just living day by day, thinking positive and thinking about my children and what I've been here for. I'm a mum of three and grandmother of four now. Yeah that's how I am now. I'm just living life to the fullest as best I can."

And while tragedy tears apart lives it can also unite strangers bound by that same tragedy, Natisha always remembers the woman who lost so many of her family that day, Angela Ormesher.

"I met her once. I took my three children down there for the memorial which is there now. I met her there and her daughter."

Despite the personal traumatic loss she was dealt at Cowper, having her own family has helped and is still helping Natisha every day.

"Sometimes I feel they've just come back in my children. People should never forget their loved ones or who they are. My mum and brother, they're still with us every day."